Being based in a large rural area involving lots of farms, many patients were slightly older and had resided in the area for years, often decades. Older country folks are a special breed – they don’t like anything modern, or anything they don’t understand. They don’t like a fuss being made over them, they don’t like causing a fuss, and they certainly don’t like hospitals. Many times I heard older patients tell me they didn’t want to waste my time, more than once those patients were in the process of having a heart attack.
Working outwith the city also meant longer journeys into hospital, sometimes up to 40 minutes or more. That’s a long time to chat with the patient (assuming they are conscious!). Those journeys were either hard going or a great experience. Older people have usually seen a lot of changes in their lives, especially if they’ve lived in the same area for a long time. That was usually my conversation starter. Most patients loved to talk about the things they had seen, things they had been through. Most didn’t like to talk about WWII. I did, however, have one patient who got quite upset regarding the war.
I began with my usual “you must have seen a lot of changes in your lifetime?”. The patient agreed, then said “but I did things I’m not proud of”. It transpired they had been part of a special forces group and, although they couldn’t tell me what they had been involved in, they did tell me they had taken enemy lives. This was clearly upsetting to them. I pointed out that, despite the unfortunate circumstances, their actions had actually helped ensure my freedom, and that made them a hero in my opinion. “but I killed people!” they said with tears in their eyes. Humility is too small a word to explain what I was feeling. The person in front of me had suffered all their lives for their part in my safety and my right to live free from dictatorship! I listened to stories I can’t write here, all the way to the hospital. By the time we got there I was speechless. Most people will never know that patient’s part in their lives, or their courage, but I will never forget.
I met a number of genuine heroes in my time with the service, all humble and very un-hero-like. I will always consider it an honour to have met them, a chance to try to care for them as best as I could, albeit nowhere near enough to show proper gratitude.
All heroes, all unwilling to accept that fact. A far cry from some of the so called “heroes” we see on our TV screens now – footballers, pop stars…??
Most who had active involvement in WWII will no longer be with us now, but I hope they, and their effect on our lives, will never be forgotten by us or future generations.